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7. Daniel's Dream of Four Beasts
1In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel saw a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream; he told the sum of the matters. 2Daniel spoke and said, I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of the heavens broke forth upon the great sea. 3And four great beasts came up from the sea, different one from another. 4The first was like a lion, and had eagle`s wings: I beheld till its wings were plucked; and it was lifted up from the earth, and made to stand upon two feet as a man, and a man`s heart was given to it. 5And behold, another beast, a second, like unto a bear, and it raised up itself on one side; and [it had] three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and they said thus unto it: Arise, devour much flesh. 6After this I saw, and behold, another, like a leopard, and it had four wings of a bird upon its back; and the beast had four heads; and dominion was given to it. 7After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and exceeding strong; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped the rest with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. 8I considered the horns, and behold, there came up among them another, a little horn, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots; and behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things. 9I beheld till thrones were set, and the Ancient of days did sit: his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was flames of fire, [and] its wheels burning fire. 10A stream of fire issued and came forth from before him; thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. 11I beheld therefore, because of the voice of the great words that the horn spoke; I beheld till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed, and it was given up to be burned with fire. 12As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away; but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. 13I saw in the night visions, and behold, there came with the clouds of heaven [one] like a son of man, and he came up even to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. 14And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom [that] which shall not be destroyed. 15As for me Daniel, my spirit was grieved in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me. 16I came near unto one of them that stood by, and asked him the certainty of all this. And he told me, and made me know the interpretation of the things: 17These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, [that] shall arise out of the earth. 18But the saints of the most high [places] shall receive the kingdom, and they shall possess the kingdom for ever, even to the ages of ages. 19Then I desired to know the certainty concerning the fourth beast, which was different from them all, exceeding dreadful, whose teeth were of iron, and its nails of brass; which devoured, broke in pieces, and stamped the rest with its feet; 20and concerning the ten horns that were in its head, and the other that came up, and before which three fell: even that horn that had eyes, and a mouth speaking great things, and whose look was more imposing than its fellows. 21I beheld, and that horn made war with the saints, and prevailed over them; 22until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most high [places]; and the appointed time arrived, and the saints possessed the kingdom. 23He said thus: The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom upon the earth, which shall be different from all the kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces. 24And as to the ten horns, out of this kingdom shall arise ten kings; and another shall arise after them; and he shall be different from the former, and he shall subdue three kings. 25And he shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most high [places], and think to change seasons and the law; and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and a half time. 26And the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end. 27But the kingdom and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heavens, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most high [places]. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him. 28So far is the end of the matter. As for me Daniel, my thoughts much troubled me, and my countenance was changed in me; but I kept the matter in my heart.
This verse assures us how these predictions concerning the destruction of the beast regard the Church’s safety. Thus the faithful might know themselves noticed by God, and how the changes which successively happened tended to the same end, the acknowledgment on the part of the pious of their continuance under the care and guardianship of God. For any discussion of the four monarchies would have been cold and useless: unless there had been added God’s peculiar care of his own Church., and his conducting the affairs of the world for the safety of his people. As we have said in other places, God’s elect people are of more consequence than all the kingdoms which are conspicuous in the world. (Isaiah 43:3.) This, then, is the sense of the words. If we separate this verse from its context, the prophecy will still have its use. We may elicit from it how all things which seem stable in the world are yet perishable, and nothing is so firm as not to be subject every moment to constant variation. But the chief intention of this prediction is, as I have said, to show the relation of all events to the safety of the pious. When, therefore, all things seem carried away by the blind impulse of chance, we ought always to contemplate God as watching for his Church, and tempering all storms and all commotion to the service and safety of the pious, who rest upon his Providence. These two things, then, are mutually in accordance, namely, the slaying of the fourth beast, and the giving of the kingdom and authority to the people of the saints This does not seem to have been accomplished yet; and hence many, nay, almost all, except the Jews, have treated this prophecy as relating to the final day of Christ’s advent. All Christian interpreters agree in this; but, as I have shewn before, they pervert the Prophet’s intention. As to the Jews, theirs is no explanation at all, for they are not only foolish and stupid, but even crazy 3535 Calvin’s expression is here proverbial; the French translates ils n’en approachent ne pres ne loin; the Latin being, neque coelum neque terram attingunt. — Ed. And since their object is the adulteration of sound doctrine, God also blinds them till they become utterly in the dark, and both trifling and childish; and if I were to stop to refute their crudities, I should never come to an end.
This prophecy does not seem to be accomplished at the destruction of the beast; but this is easily explained. We know how magnificently the prophets speak of Christ’s kingdom, and adore his dignity and glory with splendid eulogies; and although these are not exaggerated, yet if judged of by human perceptions, you would surely think them exceedingly extravagant, and find neither solidity nor firmness in their words. And no wonder: for Christ’s kingdom and his dignity cannot be perceived by carnal eyes, nor even comprehended by the human intellect. Let those who appear the most sagacious of men combine together all their clear-sightedness, yet they can never ascend to the height of Christ’s kingdom, which surpasses the very heavens. Nothing is more contrary to our natural judgment than to seek life in death, riches in poverty and want, glory in shame and disgrace — to be wanderers in this world, and at the same time its heirs! Our minds cannot naturally comprehend these things. No wonder, then, if mortals judge erroneously of Christ’s kingdom, and are blind in the midst of light. Still there is no defect in the Prophet’s expressions, for they depict for us the visible image of Christ’s kingdom, and accommodate themselves to our dullness. They enable us to perceive the analogy between things earthly and visible, and that spiritual blessedness which Christ has afforded to us, and which we now possess through hope in him. For while we only hope, our happiness is concealed from us; it is not perceptible by our eyes or by any of our senses.
Let us now return to the passage. Daniel first of all says, A kingdom, and power, and extensive dominion, shall be given to the people of the holy ones. This was partially fulfilled when the Gospel emerged from persecution: then the name of Christ was everywhere celebrated and held in honor and esteem, while previously it had been the subject of the greatest envy and hatred. For nothing had been more hated and detested for many years than the name of Christ. God, therefore, then gave the kingdom to his people, when he was acknowledged as the Redeemer of the world throughout its many changes, after having been formerly despised and utterly rejected. I may here remark again, and impress upon the memory what I have frequently touched upon, namely, the custom of the Prophets, in treating of Christ’s kingdom, to extend their meaning further than its first beginnings; and they do this while they dwell upon its commencement. Thus Daniel or the angel does not predict here occurrences connected with the advent of Christ as Judge of the world, but with the first preaching and promulgation of the Gospel, and the celebration of the name of Christ. But this does not prevent him from drawing a magnificent picture of Christ’s reign, and embracing its final completion. It is sufficient for us to perceive how God begins to give the kingdom to his elect people, when, by the power of his Spirit, the doctrine of the holy Gospel was everywhere received in the world. The sudden change which it occasioned was incredible, but this is a customary result; for, when anything is predicted, we think it a fable and a dream, and when God performs what we never would have thought of, the evil, appears to us trifling, and we treat it as of no moment. For example, when the preaching of the Gospel commenced, no one would have thought its success could have been so great and so prosperous; nay, two hundred years before Christ was manifest, when religion was almost blotted out, and the Jews were execrated by the whole world, who would have thought the Law would spring from Zion? Yet God erected his scepter there. The dignity of the kingdom had vanished: the offspring of David was extinct. For the family of Jesse was but a trunk, after the simile used by the prophet Isaiah. (Isaiah 11:1.) If any one had asked all the Jews one after another, no one would have believed the possibility of those events which accompanied the preaching of the Gospel; but, at length the, dignity and virtue of the kingdom of David shone forth in Christ. Yet it vanishes before our eyes, and we seek new miracles, as if God had not sufficiently proved himself to have spoken by his prophets! Thus we observe how the Prophet keeps within bounds when he says, A kingdom, and a power, and a magnitude of empire was given to the people of the saints.
He adds, one empire under the whole heavens Here the Rabbi Abarbinel, who thinks himself superior to all others, rejects our idea of the spiritual reign of Christ as a foolish imagination. For the kingdom of God, he says, is established under the whole heavens, and is given to the people of the saints. If it is established under heaven, says he, it is earthly, and if earthly, therefore not spiritual. This seems in truth a very subtle argument, as if God could not reign in the world except as extraordinary mortal. As often as Scripture says “God reigns,” according to this argument God must be transfigured into human nature, otherwise there will be no kingdom of God except it is earthly, and if earthly it is temporal, and therefore perishable. Hence we must infer that God changes his nature. His kingdom, then, will consist in opulence, and military power and parade, and the common luxuries of life, so that God will become unlike himself. We perceive the puerile trifling of those Rabbis who pretend to glory in their ingenuity, to the total destruction of the whole teaching of piety. They intend nothing else than to adulterate the purity of Scripture by their foul and senseless comments. But we know the reign of God and of Christ, although existing in the world, not to be of it, (John 18:36;) the meaning of the two expressions is exactly the opposite. God, therefore, still exercises his heavenly reign in the world, because he dwells in the hearts of his people by his Spirit. While God held his seat at Jerusalem, was his kingdom merely an earthly and corruptible one? By no means, for by the possession of an earthly habitation he did not cease to be in heaven also. Thus the angel instructed the Prophet concerning the saints who are pilgrims in the world, and yet shall enjoy the kingdom and possess the greatest power under heaven. Hence also we correctly conclude, that this vision ought not to be explained of the final advent of Christ, but of the intermediate state of the Church. The saints began to reign under heaven, when Christ ushered in his kingdom by the promulgation of his Gospel.
Another point must be noticed, — what belongs to the head is transferred to the body. There is nothing new in this, as the supreme power is constantly promised by the Prophets to the Church, especially by Isaiah, who often predicts its complete supremacy. The Papists seize upon such testimonies to clothe themselves in the spoils of God, as if God had resigned his right to them! But they are immersed in the same error with the Jews, who swell with pride whenever such dignity is promised to the elect people, as if they could remain separate from God and yet obtain the right of treading the whole world under foot. The Papists also do exactly the same. We, however, must be guided by a very different rule, namely, in consequence of the intimate union between Christ and his Church, the peculiar a tribute of Christ himself is often transferred to his body. Not that the Church reigns by itself; but Christ, as its only supreme head, obtains dominion therein, and not for his own private advantage — for what need has he of this dominion? but for the common safety of all its members. Wherefore Christ is our King, and he designs to erect his throne in the midst; of us; he uses nothing for his own advantage, but communicates all things to us, and renders them useful to us; hence, we are deservedly called kings, because he reigns, and as I have already said, language which is exclusively appropriate to him, is transferred to us in consequence of the intimate communion existing between the head and the members.
This is also the sense of the phrase here added by the Prophet, All powers shall serve and obey it I have no doubt the angel here confirmed Isaiah’s prophecy, as the Holy Spirit, the better to confirm and strengthen the faith of the pious, often reconciles one Prophet with another, and thus their mutual agreement becomes the seal of their truth. It is said in Isaiah, The kingdom and the land which will not serve thee, shall be destroyed: kings shall come and adore thee, the people shall offer thee gifts. (Isaiah 60:12.) In the Psalms, it is said,
“Kings shall assemble together, to serve God.”
And Isaiah treats very fully on the empire of the Church. The angel now repeats the same thing, to add, as I have said, greater confidence and authority to the prophecy of Isaiah. Meanwhile, we observe how completely all the Prophets agree, and at the same time we interpret these words of the kingdom of Christ, from the period at which the teaching of the gospel was rendered remarkably conspicuous; for then God’s royal scepter went forth from Jerusalem, and shone far and wide, while the Lord was extending his hand and his authority over all the regions of the world. As all these important events tended to the common salvation of the Church, it is said, The kingdom shall belong to the holy people. As to the phrase, The saints of the high ones, I have already explained why the Prophet applies this phrase to the faithful, and why the angel also does the same; namely, because God separated them from the world, and they were always looking upwards and drawing all their hopes from above. Then, as to the Rabbi whom I cited, he twists this passage, and tries to show that the Prophet did not speak of Christ, when he says he saw the figure of the Son of man. But this is complete trifling, for he asserts the Son of man to mean “the people of the saints,” and thus the phrase would have no reference to Christ, but to the whole offspring of Abraham. We must not be surprised at the shameful ignorance of these Rabbis, and at their blundering at the very rudiments, since they do not acknowledge the necessity for a Mediator, through whom alone the Church can obtain any favor before God. They boast in what we also allow — in the sons of Abraham being the elect, and in this title as availing to render them a holy people, and heirs of God, and a kingdom of priests. This is true, but on what was their covenant of adoption founded but on Christ? Hence their separating the Church from the Mediator, is like leaving a mutilated body apart from its disjoined head. Besides, from what the Prophet stated before about the Son of man, his subject is evidently changed in this verse. He stated there, power was given to the Son of man after he had arrived at the Ancient of days, and the Son of man, or at least his likeness, appeared in the clouds. First of all, we must notice this likeness, as it were the Son of man, as we have already explained the vision. Surely Abraham’s posterity were really men, but the vision offered to the Prophet was but a similitude; as Christ had not yet put on our flesh, this was only a prelude to his future manifestation in the flesh. Here he speaks openly and without a figure of the people of the saints, and this prophecy depends upon the former one. For unless Christ were seated at His Father’s right hand, and had obtained supreme dominion, causing every knee to bend before him, the Church could never exercise its power. Thus we observe how all things mutually agree among each other.
As, however, it is certain that many have perseveringly rebelled against; God and the teaching of his gospel, it may seem absurd for the angel to pronounce all the powers of the world obedient and submissive. But it is worth while to study the customary methods of scriptural expression. For instance, by the phrase “all people,” the Spirit does not mean every single person, but simply some out of every nation who should submit to Christ’s yoke, acknowledge him to be king, and obediently obey his Church. How often do these sentiments occur in the prophets? All nations shall come — all kings; shall serve. At that time no king existed who was not professedly an enemy of true piety, and who did not desire the abolition of the very name of his law. The prophets enlarge thus magnificently on the future restoration of this kingdom, as we have stated before, in consequence of the event being so utterly incredible. So, also, in this place all powers, says he, shall serve and obey him; that is:, no power shall so boast in its loftiness, as not willingly to become subject to the Church, although at present all so fully despise it: nay, while they rage with all their might, against the most wretched Church, and while they tread it most ignominiously under foot, even then they shall be subject to it. This we know to have been amply fulfilled. Some persons foolishly press beyond their meaning words of universal import, as when Paul says, God wishes all to be saved. Hence, they say, no one is predetermined for destruction, but all are elect, that is, God is not God. (1 Timothy 2:4.) But we are not surprised at such madness as this, corrupting the impious and profane, who desire by their cavils to promote disbelief in all the oracles of the Spirit. Let us clearly comprehend the frequency of this figure of speech; when the Holy Spirit names “all,” he means some out of all nations, and not every one universally.